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Cumberland County ex rel. State of Alabama v. Lee

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 7, 2019

CUMBERLAND COUNTY EX REL: STATE OF ALABAMA O. B. O.: Alisha Lee, Plaintiff,
v.
CLIFFORD LEE, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 11 April 2019.

          Appeal by defendant from order entered 11 January 2018 by Judge Robert J. Stiehl, III in Cumberland County No. 1 CVD 6645 District Court.

          Cumberland County Child Support Department, by Ben Logan Roberts and Roxanne C. Garner, for plaintiff-appellee.

          C. Leon Lee, II, pro se, for defendant-appellant.

          ARROWOOD, Judge.

         Clifford Lee ("defendant" or "C. Leon Lee, II") appeals from an order holding him in civil contempt. For the reasons stated herein, we vacate and remand.

         I. Background

         On 3 July 2002, a Cumberland County District Court entered an order whereby defendant was ordered to pay $350.00 per month, beginning 1 August 2002, for the support of his minor child. The Cumberland County Child Support Enforcement Agency ("plaintiff" or "the agency") filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the custodial parent of the minor child, Alisha Blackmon Lee ("relator"), to provide child support enforcement services. The motion came on for hearing on 1 November 2007 before the Honorable A. Elizabeth Keever in Cumberland County District Court. On 10 March 2008, the trial court entered an order allowing plaintiff to intervene and ordering defendant to pay the ongoing child support obligation into the North Carolina Child Support Centralized Collections.

         Plaintiff filed a motion to terminate ongoing child support and to establish arrears with repayment on 18 January 2011. The motion and a notice of hearing for 17 February 2011 was served on defendant by first class mail on 21 January 2011. Defendant moved for a continuance on 4 February 2011. The trial court denied defendant's motion for a continuance at the 17 February 2011 hearing, the Honorable Kimbrell Kelly-Tucker presiding. That same day, the trial court entered an order terminating ongoing child support, effective 30 June 2010, establishing defendant's arrears at $9, 839.30 and setting repayment at $385.00 per month, beginning 1 March 2011.

         On 12 April 2017, the trial court entered an order to appear and show cause for defendant's failure to comply with the 17 February 2011 order. Defendant was served personally with the order to show cause on 11 May 2017. Defendant moved to continue the hearing on 15 May 2017. The trial court granted the motion and continued the hearing to 29 June 2017. The matter was continued four additional times.

         The order to appear and show cause came on for hearing on 22 November 2017 in Cumberland County District Court, the Honorable Robert J. Stiehl, III presiding. However, during the hearing, defendant claimed an order existed that was not in the file, so the trial court continued the matter. The hearing continued from the previous setting on 20 December 2017. Defendant made various arguments, but did not testify and offered no other evidence. On 11 January 2018, the trial court entered an order for contempt, finding, inter alia:

1. That on July 19, 2002 an Order was entered in this case whereby the Defendant was ordered to pay $350.00 per month for the support and maintenance of the minor child . . . beginning August 1, 2002.
. . . .
4. It was established that the Defendant owed $9, 839.30 in outstanding arrears as ...

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